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Showing posts from 2015

Examine RTI's exemption categories before releasing human rights violation report: Gujarat's top Info Commissioner

By Rajiv Shah
Gujarat’s chief information commissioner Balwant Singh, in a ruling, which is unlikely to be taken kindly by RTI activists, has said that senior IAS official Sanjay Prasad’s two-year-old report on the death of three Dalit youths in police firing of September 2012, may be public, as it relates to a “human rights violation”, but under certain condition.
The release of the report, says Singh, should be done after examining if the report or its portions are under the Right to Information (RTI) Act’s exemption category Section 8(1).
Putting the job of examining this on Gujarat government officials, Singh says, they should find out if any of its portions in the report fall under the “exemption” categories of Section 8(1)(a), 8(1)(c), 8(1)(g) and 8(1)(i).
He underlines, the commission under him “is imposing this condition because the commission has not has not seen the report, which is supposed to be under submission and pending for government’s decision.”
Section 8(1)(a) exempts d…

Foreign funding rules to "affect" Indian NGOs working on human rights, policy, governance, electoral reforms

By Rajiv Shah
India’s civil society organizations have strongly objected to the new Foreign Contribution Regulation (FRC) Rules notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which require the NGOs to give an "affirmation" that they are not used the foreign contribution for activities that are likely to “prejudicially affect” the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the security, strategic, scientific and economic interests of the state and the public interest.
Circulating a note written by a senior activist for perusal and comments to NGOs receiving foreign contribution, Subhash Mittal, secretary, Socio-Research Reform Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO, comments, says, “Many organizations which work on, says, human rights, legal rights, policy, governance, electoral reforms related issues, may face interpretation issues.”
However, he adds, the “organizations who are working on clear cut issues (say health, water, development, etc.), such interpretation may not pose problem.”
This u…

Rural Gujarat's public healthcare services witness 7.9 per cent decline, one of the highest in India: Niti Aayog experts

By Rajiv Shah
In fresh evidence, Gujarat’s public healthcare has taken a beating over the last10 years, with rural areas witnessing one of the sharpest 7.9 per cent fall in the provision of government health services in India, Only two states witnessed a higher fall than Gujarat in rural public healthcare services -- Karnataka (13.2 per cent) and Maharashtra (9.5).
Based on an analysis of National Sample Survey (NSS) conducted in 2004 (60th round) and 2014 (71st round), a recent study, put on the Government of India’s (GoI's) Niti Aayog website, the data show that Bihar was No 1 state, where confidence in rural public healthcare delivery system rose by a whopping 28 per cent, followed by Assam (15 per cent), Haryana (12.7 per cent), Uttarakhand (7.7 per cent), and so on.
The study has been carried out four experts, three of whom are with the GoI – Nishant Jain, Deputy Program Director at German Development Cooperation, India; Alok Kumar is Adviser (Health) at NITI Aayog; Sunil Nandra…

Study blames NREGA for 2.4% rise in India's school dropout of adolescents, with girls pushed to domestic work

By Rajiv Shah
A new research work, which would which is likely to sound music to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chosen economic advisors, especially Niti Ayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya, says that the former UPA government’s flagship programme National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), has had a negative impact on school going children, especially in the age-group 13-17.
The study, titled “Workfare and Human Capital Investment: Evidence from India”, by Manisha Shah and Bryce Millett Steinberg for the Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA), an independent nonprofit organization supported by the Deutsche Post Foundation, has said that in the age-group 13-17 the school dropout has been around 2.4 per cent.
Pointing out that there is a simultaneous diversion of the children in this age group to “productive work” to the tune of 2.8 per cent, the study says, it also finds that “adolescent girls are more likely to substitute for their mothers in domestic work, while bo…

India ranks No 24 in Free Expression Index among 38 countries: American think-tank Pew International survey

By Rajiv Shah
Well-known US-based think-tank, Pew Research Centre, in a new study has found that India ranks No 24 of 38 democratic countries it has surveyed for coming up with Free Expression Index (FEI). The United States ranks No 1 with an FEI of 5.73, followed by Poland (5.66), Spain (5.62), Mexico (5.4), Venezuela (5.17), and Canada (5.18).
The country that ranks the worst is Senegal with an FEI of 2.06. While Jordan ranks second from the bottom an FEI of 2.58, India’s neighbour, Pakistan, despite having a democratic government today, ranks third from the bottom, with an FEI of 2.78. The mean index, however, is 4.07, which is higher than that of India.
A non-partisan think-tank, the Pew study seeks to examine global public opinion about democratic principles. It is based on 40,786 face-to-face and telephone interviews in 38 countries with adults 18 and above, conducted from April 5 to May 21, 2015.
Authored by Richard Wike and Katie Simmons, the study states, “Although many observe…

Women, old "neglected" by Indian healthcare system, which fails to take into account "societal needs": Lancet study

By By Rajiv Shah
Making a scathing critique of the prevailing social bias in collection of data on health in India, a recent study published in the well-known global health journal “Lancet” has said that “about 80% of patients visit a private practitioner, which they do at their own expense”, yet most “health-related data are obtained from public hospitals and public health-care service units.”
Pointing out that public facilities provide “only 20% of all outpatient care in India”, hence they do not provide “a true picture of the whole morbidity profile in India”, the study says, this is one reason why the most representative National Family Health Survey (NFHS), collects “little information about disease patterns”, and depends on “self-reports”.
Pointing out that this results in “under-reporting of disease patterns”, the study says, result is that health related data collected by the NFHS is confined to collecting facts on "fertility, infant and child mortality, contraception and fa…

CII: Growth in sales down from 8.8% to 2.8% in a year, corporateprofits go into negative, wither Make in India?

By Rajiv Shah
The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), India’s powerful organization of top corporate giants, has declared that the “corporate results at the end of first quarter of current fiscal (2015-16) painted a rather gloomy picture, as the financial performance of Indian companies, especially manufacturing sector firms, deteriorated.”
In a just-released analysis, the CII said, “A lower than expected 7.0 per cent GDP growth in the reporting quarter could not salvage the cause, even as the rate cuts by the RBI provided some respite.” It added, even the ambitious Make in India campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed to make a difference, with India “struggling to keep face in the international trade arena.”
Giving an analysis of the financial performance during the first quarter of 2015-16 of 2,422 manufacturing companies and 1167 service firms extracted from the Ace Equity database, the CII said, “Growth in net sales on an aggregate basis stood at a measly 2.8 per …

Modi's Jan Dhan scheme "lacks" any explicit purpose; India's accounts penetration worst among BRICS nations: World Bank

By Rajiv Shah
A new report by the World Bank, “Global Findex Database 2014: Measuring Financial Inclusion Around the World”, has said that the Government of India’s high-profile Jan Dhan scheme, launched for bank transfer subsidies to the poorer sections of India’s population, has been lacking any “explicit purpose”, one reason why around 43 per cent of the country’s accounts are "dormant."
The report, whose Indian survey is based on what it calls “face-to-face” interview with around 3,000 lower middle class sections of the population between September 7 and October 15, 2015, said, “In South Asia about 40 percent have an account classified as dormant. One possible reason for this is the large number of accounts opened within the past year in India, many of which were set up without an explicit purpose in mind.”
The report, which has been authored by Asli Demirguc-Kunt, Leora Klapper, Dorothe Singer and Peter Van Oudheusden, has found that the account penetration in India of all…

Half of India's health facilities have no access to electricity: World Bank report on "ease" of doing business

By Rajiv Shah
Even as ranking India 130th in the ease of doing business among 189 countries, up from 134th a year ago, the latest World Bank report, “Doing Business 2016: Measuring Regulatory Quality and Efficiency” has quietly suggested that all’s not well on the social front in India. It has pointed towards “unreliable electricity supply”, which has adverse “consequences for a society’s well-being and living conditions.”
Comparing India with Kenya, the report states, “25% of health facilities in Kenya can count on a reliable power supply” , and suggests India not far behind (page 72 of the 338-page report.
“In India nearly half of health facilities have no access to electricity at all”, the report insists, adding, “Most public services are compromised when power shuts down. And outages can pose a threat to personal safety—such as by putting out streetlights and traffic lights and by disabling burglar alarms in homes.”
Interestingly, the World Bank remark has been made alongside its eff…

Land ceiling bill meant to "help" industrialists set up shop, easily sell land: Internal Gujarat govt note

By Rajiv Shah
An internal Gujarat government note, prepared by the state revenue department and in possession of Counterview, has admitted that the recent amendments to the state’s land various ceiling Acts are meant to “enable the industrialist to speedily establish industry”, in such a way that the industrialist could “purchase” the land for industrial purpose “without prior permission of the district collector.”
In order to do this, it said, it has amended Section 63 AA of Mumbai Tenancy Administration and Agriculture Land Act, 1948; Section 55 of Saurashtra Gharkhed, Tenancy Administration and Agriculture Land Act, 1949; and Section 89-A of Mumbai Tenancy Administration and Agriculture Land (Vidarbh Pradesh and Kutch region), 1958.
The amendments await President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee’s nod before they could become legal entities. The Gujarat governor refused to sign the amendments, and instead sent them to the Government of India for approval, as they invited wide-scale criticism o…

India "improved" in Global Hunger Index in 2005-14, though inter-state differences remain: Top study

By Rajiv Shah
A new report, “2015 Global Hunger Index” has ranked India No 80th of 117 countries selected for calculating global hunger index (GHI). While this is better than Pakistan (No 93), this is no consolation, as it India’s ranking has been found to be lower than the other important neighbouring countries – China (No 21), Nepal (No 58), Sril Lanka (No 69), and Bangladesh (No 73).
Prepared by three western institutes, Concern Worldwide, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Welthungerhilfe, the report maps global hunger levels and identifies the improvements or the deterioration of food security in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, even as pointing out that there is a “complex relationship between hunger and conflict.” 
Pointing out that GHI is a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger globally, regionally, and by country, the report has looked into four major issues while calculating GHI:
· the proportion of undernourishe…

New Gujarat land law triggers fears among farmers in state

By Rajiv Shah
The Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling (Amendment) Bill, 2015, unanimously passed in the two-day monsoon session of the Gujarat state assembly – after Congress MLAs were suspended for creating a “ruckus” – is finally beginning to get national attention. The Bill is lying with President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, awaiting his final nod after the Gujarat governor, O.P. Kohli, sent it to Delhi for approval. According to sources, the risk-averse Kohli felt that its provisions needed “Central scrutiny”.
Gujarat Congress leaders met the President recently, asking him not give sign the Bill. They allege that it seeks to “hand over” surplus land – acquired during the land reforms days of the 1960s but lying idle since then – to industry and not to landless and marginal peasants. Taking a similar line, Gujarat-based farmer activists have begun pointing towards how the Bill seeks to do away with the Gujarat Agricultural Lands Ceiling Act, 1960, whose main purpose was to distribute surpl…

Gujarat land bill: Only surplus land in urban bodies to be "acquired", as it "can't be used for agriculture"

By Rajiv Shah
Contradicting the claims of Gujarat-based activists and the Opposition Congress, a senior Gujarat government bureaucrat has told Counterview that main purpose of controversial the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling (Amendment) Bill, 2015 “is to transfer surplus land, lying idle, within municipal corporation and municipality bodies, for public purpose”, and “not to take away land meant for Dalits, tribals and other marginalized groups, as is being made out.”
Sharply reacting to the critical view taken on the Bill, the bureaucrat, who was involved in drafting it, but refused to be named, said, the term “public purpose” is pretty well-defined – “it does not mean handing over land to any industrial house, as is being made out, but to transfer the idle land for, say, creating a solid waste recycling site.”
The bill is currently lying with the President of India for his final nod after the Gujarat governor decided not to sign it, apparently taking note of the possibilities of …

Govt of India order "prohibits" foreign-funded NGO trustees to work as independent mediapersons

By Rajiv Shah
It is now official. In what may be interpreted as yet another attack on the free functioning of non-government organizations (NGOs) in India, the Government of India has expressed the view, in black and white, that the trustees of society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, and receiving foreign contribution under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), cannot be allowed to work as independent mediapersons.
This has come to light in one of the several objections raised by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India, regarding reasons given to prominent human rights activist Teesta Setalvad on why MHA has decided to suspend FCRA license of Sabrang Trust, which she heads along with her husband, Javed Anand.
The MHA objection, in its order dated September 9, 2015, quotes the FCRA, 2010 to say that trustee of such an NGO is “prohibited” to be a “correspondent, columnist, cartoonist, owner, printer or publisher or owner”.
Referring to Teest…

Gujarati classic Saraswatichandra, an accomplished literary work, now in English

By Rajiv Shah
India's pioneering literary classic in Gujarati, “Saraswatichandra”, is finally available in English. Translated by well-known Gandhi expert Tridip Suhrud, who has been instrumental in implementing one of the most ambitious projects of digitizing the entire Gandhi heritage, Suhrud terms the late 19th century novel by Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi as ranking among the “most accomplished literary works” of India.
Running into four volumes, Govardhanram began writing the novel in 1885, with its last, fourth part having been published in 1901. Running into 1,700 pages, Suhrud told Counterview, he translated the classic, because “for 128 years we in Gujarat had not done so", despite the fact that “it is the most important literary work of Gujarati language.”
While the first volume is out and has been published by Orient Black Swan, the other three volumes – which are at the editing stage – will be out over the next about one and a half years. The first volume runs i…

Gandhi opposed ban on cow slaughter, Ambedkar wrote it was common practice in ancient India

By Rajiv Shah
At a time when lynching of Mohamad Ashfaq on the “suspicion” of keeping beef in his refrigerator is sought to be justified by powerful politicians of the country, facts have come to light suggesting that two of the most important pillars of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi and Baba Ambedkar, opposed ban on cow slaughter tooth and nail.
Speaking at a prayer meeting in Delhi on July 25, 1947, Gandhi said he would advise thousands of those who had written to Rajendra Prasad demanding a ban on cow-slaughter not to “waste money”, as their postcards, letters and telegrams  had had “no effect” (click HERE to read the full text).
Referring to a telegram he received “which says that a friend has started a fast for this cause”, Gandhi insisted, “In India no law can be made to ban cow-slaughter”, underlining, “I shall suggest that the matter should not be pressed in the Constituent Assembly.” The Constituent Assembly, under Ambedkar’s chairmanship, was then already involved in the onero…

Gujarat cops' confinement in garage for 16 hrs "symptomatic" of brewing rebellion among junior men, women in khaki

By Nachiketa Desai and Rajiv Shah
The recent incident, in which an additional director general of police (ADGP) of Gujarat locked up 17 policemen in his garage for more than 16 hours without water, food and electricity to ‘teach them a lesson’ for being “lax in carrying out domestic work” is being interpreted among official circles in Gujarat Sachivalaya as a symptom of brewing rebellion among the women and men in khaki.
The policemen were freed them state director general of police (DGP) PC Thakur rushed two senior IPS officers to rescue them from the garage. Those who were locked up by Vipul Vijoy, a 1983 batch IPS officer, in the garage of his official bungalow situated within the Police Training College in Karai, off Gandhinagar, included one sub-inspector, 12 assistant sub-inspectors and four police drivers.
The cops were locked following “some altercation over doing work sluggishly”, following which the ADGP ordered them to go inside the garage and locked them up, sources in the P…

India slips in internet ranking, is worst performer among competing BRICS nations: UNESCO broadband report

By Rajiv Shah
Even when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was meeting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as part of his effort to gather international support for his high-profile Digital India campaign, a new report, sponsored jointly by UNESCO and International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and released by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, has found that India has slipped in global ranking for the use of internet, both broadband and internet in general.
The report, “State of Broadband 2015: Broadband as Foundation of Sustainable Development”, dated September 2015, ranks India 131st in the fixed broadband subscription category and 155th in the mobile broadband subscription category among 189 nations of the world. The report says that India has 1.2 per 100 capita fixed and 5.5 mobile per 100 capita broadband penetration.
A comparison with BRICS nations suggests as India ranks worst both in fixed and mobile broadband. In fixed broadband, Russia ranks 56th with 17.5 per 100 capita, China 67th wi…

India's annual export losses may reach $50 bln if economy not opened up to world trade: US govt policy adviser

By Rajiv Shah
A senior policy expert attached with US government has sharply criticized the Government of India for not doing enough in opening up its economy to the world. Pointing out that “India’s international competitiveness is lagging badly”, the expert says, “The shares of both manufactured and services exports in the economy have stagnated for over three years”, and “the responsiveness of Indian imports to global growth has declined sharply.”
The expert, C Fred Bergsten, says, India’s :merchandise trade deficit has hit record highs in the last two years”, and the country’s “competitiveness problem is compounded by its absence from the world’s new megaregional trade agreements, especially the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but also the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)”.
In his paper titled “India’s Rise: A Strategy for Trade-led Growth”, Bergsten says, what is particularly regrettable is that the Narendra Modi government has failed to take advantage of the …